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CHARLES WILLEFORD High Priest of California

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“She was leaning against the door. Her smile was a sickly twisted grimace; The sort a prisoner gives a judge when he’s asked if he has anything to say before he’s sentenced.” In High Priest of California every sentence masks innuendo, every detail hides a clue, and every used car sale is as outrageous as every seduction.


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Product Description

Russell Haxby is a ruthless used car salesman obsessed with manipulating and cavorting with married women. In this classic of Hard-boiled fiction, Charles Willeford crafts a wry, sardonic tale of hypocrisy, intrigue and lust set in San Francisco in the early fifties…
ONLY A FEW COPIES LEFT! The first two novels by Charles Willeford surpass the works of Jim Thompson in profundity of hard-boiled characterization, simultaneously offering a deep critique of contemporary morality… San Francisco in the Fifties must have been quite a place… a place where you could get away with murder!

“A totally hard-edged and unsentimental fiction.” – J.G. Ballard

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Weight 0.90 lbs

1 review for CHARLES WILLEFORD High Priest of California

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    “Nobody writes like Charles Willeford. . . . He is an original—funny, weird and wonderful.” –James Crumley

    “Elegant, tough, and rhythmic as a championship boxing match.” –San Francisco Chronicle

    “Willeford has a marvelously deadpan way with losers on both sides of the law.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer

    “Wow! He gives you . . . the viewpoint of the most fascinating asocial trash.” –Tony Hillerman

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I slipped a dollar under the wicket and a sullen-lipped cashier asked me for a penny.

“You’re making the change,” I told her. She gave me the ticket and four pennies and I bounded up the stairs. The man on the door tried to mark my wrist with a blue stamp, but I dodged it. It was one of those dance halls where men come to pick up something, and women come to be picked up. I was there because I was bored. I looked around.

There were twice as many women as men. Most of the women looked pretty bad, those that were sitting around waiting, but there were a few fairly nice ones on the floor. I edged through the crowd to the rope barrier and watched the dancers. The band (three saxes, a trumpet, piano and drums) was much too loud. The ceiling was low and there was a second listen to the music through reverberation. I looked for the bar and found it, but it only served beer. I ordered one at the bar, and then sat at a table facing the dance floor.

The place was noisy, hot, smelled of sweat, and the beer wasn’t cold. I was ready to leave. Then I saw the woman in the red tailored suit.

It wasn’t just a red suit, it was a created red suit. The woman lived up to it. She was a tall woman with shoulder-length brown hair, parted in the center. She looked as out-of-place in that smoky atmosphere as I would have looked in a Salinas lettuce-pickers camp. She had a casual air, but she was interested in what was going on. I got up from the table and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Dance?” I jerked my head toward the floor.

“Oh, yes!” she said, and nodded her head several times like she thought it was the best suggestion ever made.
I took her elbow and guided her through the crowd to the floor. We began to dance. She was a terrible dancer, and as stiff and difficult to shove around as a reluctant St. Bernard.

“Why don’t you relax?” I asked her.

“What?” She looked at me with big brown excited eyes, and there were bright red spots on her cheeks.


“I haven’t danced in a long time and I’m afraid of making a mistake.”

“Don’t be afraid. I made one.”

“I didn’t notice it.”
“That’s because you haven’t danced in a long time. Come on. Let’s get us a beer.”

All the tables were occupied in the bar section, but a couple of young punks were sitting at one with nothing in front of them. I gave them a hard look and they got up and left.

“Sit down, Miss–?”
“Alyce. Alyce Vitale.”

“Sit down, Alyce, and I’ll get us a couple of beers.”

I elbowed my way to the bar, caught the bartender’s eye, bought two bottles of beer, and picked up a paper cup for Alyce. Back at the table I poured the beer and sat down.

“A man tried to take your seat,” she said, “but I told him it was reserved.”

“Thanks.” I drank my beer and took a better look at Alyce. Her eyes were intelligent, but vague. In repose, her face had a wistful tragic look, but when she smiled it transformed her into a radiant beauty. She looked interesting. I flashed a smile back at her, my charming, disarming smile.